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Complementary Therapies
The popularity of complementary therapies has grown, studies show that use of complementary and alternative medicine ranges from 20 to 50 percent.
*Source: American Cancer Society

Understanding Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies are treatments such as exercise, acupuncture, spirituality, nutrition, art or music therapy or yoga that help patients deal with side effects of cancer treatment and also help improve quality of life.

Complementary therapies, sometimes called integrative therapies, have become popular in the past few decades as studies have shown benefits to certain types of therapies in addition to traditional cancer therapy such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Complementary means “in addition to,” not “instead of.” Complementary therapies often lessen pain and help patients feel better emotionally and spiritually. Complementary therapy differs from alternative medicine, which is in lieu of traditional medical care, and often refers to the use of herbs, vitamins and drugs not considered routine or proven safe and effective for the treatment of cancer.

WellStar supports complementary therapies that research has found to help control pain, increase mobility, lift mood and improve quality of life. Your WellStar treatment team is expert in knowing which complementary therapies may be of help to you. Some, such as yoga, may work for one person but may not be enjoyable or helpful for the next. WellStar offers massage therapists, who are trained as part of a treatment team, for different types of cancers and their treatment side effects. For example, some massage therapists specialize in treating lymphedema, a painful side effect that sometimes occurs when lymph nodes are removed to treat breast cancer. Your WellStar treatment team can offer expert advice to help you decide which complementary therapies, if any, may benefit you.

Complementary Therapies:

During a massage, a certified massage therapist or medical professional manipulates soft tissues after evaluating the patient's needs. Benefits of massage therapy include reduced stress, anxiety and pain, improved circulation, improved levels of alertness, enhanced sleep patterns, release of endorphins (the body's natural painkillers), relaxation and increased oxygen supply. Massage also can reduce heart rate and blood pressure and increase energy and immune system activity. The type of massage that may benefit you will vary, depending on your diagnosis. Check with your WellStar treatment team before visiting a massage therapist. Some massage treatments may not be suited for your type of cancer.

Yoga is mental and physical relaxation used to stretch muscles. Although yoga does not benefit the heart, increase endurance, or help build muscle or improve muscle function like traditional exercise, it produces a sense of calm and peace, improved strength, flexibility, better immune function and lower blood pressure. Yoga can involve breathing exercises, certain stretches and poses, and meditation. Studies have shown that yoga can be beneficial to cancer patients - so much so that yoga specialists, working with oncologists, have devised special workouts for cancer patients.

Acupuncture has been shown to relieve pain in some cancer patients. Acupuncture, a therapy within traditional Chinese medicine, is one of the most widely accepted alternative therapies in the western world. Specific points on the body are stimulated, usually by inserting thin needles into the skin and underlying tissues. Stimulating these specific points is believed to unblock the flow of “qi” along energy pathways (meridians) and restore balance. The procedure is generally not painful but may cause a tingling sensation. Sometimes stimulation is increased by twisting or warming the needle. Your WellStar team can refer you to acupuncturists you can trust. Some acupuncture may be covered by insurance, so make sure you understand your benefits.

Many cancer patients find that expressing their emotions through art helps cope with their disease. You don’t have to be an artist to benefit from art therapy! Art therapy allows patients to express emotions they may not have ample words to describe, and deal with the vast range of emotions that accompany the cancer journey.

The use of certain oils and scents can have a soothing effect on those in treatment. WellStar experts can assist you in finding a person skilled in aromatherapy.

Hypnosis can help patients deal not only with pain but also fear and other emotions that may interfere with peace of mind and a good night’s sleep. During hypnosis, patients can tap into and use inner resources to make personal changes, and learn how to cope with their disease more effectively. Hypnosis may also be helpful for pain management, and help improve immune function, increase relaxation, decrease stress and ease anxiety. The American Medical Association has recognized hypnosis as a valid medical treatment for certain conditions since 1958.

Many people with cancer have said that being on the cancer journey increased their spirituality and brought them closer to God. Praying, reading books on one’s faith and connecting with others of similar faith have brought peace, comfort and strength to many a cancer patient. WellStar experts can put you in touch with chaplains or spiritual guides. Also, you may want to talk to the leader of your faith community and to join with others in prayer groups and study groups on your particular faith.

Meditation may help relieve such symptoms as anxiety, depression, pain, stress and insomnia. Combined with conventional medicine, meditation may also improve cardiovascular health, rheumatologic conditions and digestive problems. Meditation helps an individual to detach from the stressors and pressures of the moment and instead find a calm place. In addition to relieving stress, meditation also can help improve mood. Meditation is not effective for everyone. Depending on your situation, your WellStar physician may offer stress management techniques or other options to improve your sense of well-being. Sometimes, patients are referred to other medical specialists. Meditation can relax and rejuvenate the mind and body, and helps many patients refocus and gain happiness and inner peace.

As in art therapy, music therapy helps those on the cancer journey express themselves non-verbally. For some people, releasing emotions in such a manner can be very empowering. Such things as drumming and singing can be very powerful. In addition, many individuals find that listening to certain kinds of music, particularly peaceful music, can be very beneficial. WellStar experts can refer you to a music therapist who can guide you to the right kinds of music for you. Also, friends in a support group or those you meet in chemotherapy mat be good resources for helpful music that you can listen to.

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